Saturday, October 31, 2009

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

It's that time of year again...The one night of the year when all of the ghosts, ghouls and goblins come out to play. I always love Halloween...especially all of the haunted houses, decorations, costumes and...food, of course!

Brad and I carved the pumpkins in the pic above on Thursday night...aren't they cool? It had been years since I had carved a pumpkin, and I had forgotten how fun it is! I saved the pumpkin seeds and plan to roast them...I'll let you know how they turn out.


I also made these cupcakes for my co-workers...I had a lot of fun with them...Can you tell? :-)

I hope that you all have a FABULOUSLY SPOOKY Halloween!!!



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

French Macarons - Très Magnifiques!!!

Vanilla Chai Macarons:


Mocha Macarons:



***The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Wow...this has been a busy month! Between my birthday on October 7th, learning to speak French, and making several batches of macarons...it's been a fun few weeks!

Being the francophile that I am, I was absolutely thrilled to learn that the Daring Bakers were going to tackle the ever-elusive French Macaron this month...You might remember my earlier attempts to master macarons. The first time that I tried was very un-impressive...definitely nothing to write home about, haha. The SECOND ATTEMPT turned out much better! I was actually proud of those.
Pumpkin Spice Latte Macaron:

I've learned several little tricks that always come in handy and seem to result in better macarons:
1. Age your egg whites either at room temperature overnight, or in the fridge for 2-4 days. Simply put your egg whites in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap...then pop into the fridge or on the counter.
2. A pinch of Cream of Tartar to the egg whites will help stabilize them.
3. For some reason, my macarons always rise higher and have better "feet" if I use a silicon baking mat. It must have something to do with the heat distribution. A silicon mat also prevents sticking.
4. If you're going to process your own almond flour, remember to add a few tablespoons of confectioner's sugar to the food processor before grinding the nuts. If you don't, you'll end up with almond butter!
5. I found that the method of heating the macarons in a 200 degree oven for a few minutes and then raising the heat to 375 degrees to actually bake them was great...I've never read or seen this method before. Some recipes say to leave the macarons on the countertop for 30 minutes - 1 hour....this creates a film on the cookies and helps create better feet. Letting the cookies sit in a 200 degree oven simulates this process.

As I mentioned above, I'm actually learning to speak French right now. I am so excited to continue to learn more and more about the language. I learned a good bit of French before we traveled to Paris back in February of this year, but I was even more in love with it after visiting the amazing city of Paris...J'adore Paris!

Brad gave me the entire Rosetta Stone French course - Levels 1, 2 and 3 for my birthday. Of course, I was thrilled! I'm finding Rosetta Stone to be a fantastic program...I've already learned so much, just in a few weeks.

All this macaron-makin' has me wanting to go back to Paris even more (if that's even possible...lol). There's nothing quite like the macarons from the masters themselves at Laduree and Pierre Herme in Paris. I really enjoyed trying all of the flavors (and there are TONS!) in the different bakeries.

Speaking of flavors, I've made 3 flavor combinations so far (I have one more up my sleeve that I'll be making soon!). My flavors include:
1. Mocha Macarons - Macaron shells flavored with the new VIA instant coffee from Starbucks, with a chocolate ganache filling. The VIA coffee was so perfect, because the coffee is ground to a find powder. I simply added the contents of one VIA package to the almond flour while processing the nuts. This ensures that the coffee is completely mixed with the almond flour and confectioner's sugar.

2. Pumpkin Spice Latte Macarons - Again, VIA coffee flavored macaron shells, with a pumpkin-cream cheese filling. For the filling, I used Tartelette's "Cream Cheese Pumpkin Filling" recipe, which can be found HERE.

3. Vanilla Chai Macarons - Macaron shells flavored with Vanilla Chai tea mix/powder, with a vanilla buttercream filling. For these macarons, I used THIS recipe from Cooks Illustrated for the macaron shells. I added about 1 tablespoon of Oregon Chai Vanilla Tea Latte Mix to the almond flour while processing. As you can see, the chai made the macaron shells a beautiful color!

My favorites were the Mocha and Vanilla Chai Macarons...they were all so scrumptiously delicious!

Bon Appetit!!!***

French Macarons
Actual baking time: 12 minutes total, plus a few minutes to get your oven from 200°F to 375°F.

Equipment required:
• Electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer with a whisk attachment
• Rubber spatula• Baking sheets
• Parchment paper or nonstick liners
• Pastry bag (can be disposable)
• Plain half-inch pastry bag tip
• Sifter or sieve
• If you don’t have a pastry bag and/or tips, you can use a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off
• Oven
• Cooling rack
• Thin-bladed spatula for removing the macaroons from the baking sheets
• Food processor or nut grinder, if grinding your own nuts (ouch!)
Ingredients:
Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.

2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.

3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.

4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.

5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).

6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.
Yield: 10 dozen. Ami's note: My yield was much smaller than this. I produced about two dozen filled macaroons.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pasta Rosa - Penne with Spinach, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Pine Nuts, Shrimp and Pancetta


***Okay folks, my taste buds are pretty happy right now. I just finished off a beautiful plate of this pasta, and it was fabulous! On a recent trip to New Orleans, LA (which is a city that I love!), we ate at a highly recommended little restaurant called Coop's Place. Wow...that place is fantastic! It's small in size, but if you're lucky enough to get a table, you certainly won't be disappointed. There was continously a line of people waiting for a table...it's worth it, though! Everyone LOVED their meal, and the prices were great too...You can't beat that!

I ordered a dish called "Pasta Rosa." It was penne pasta with sauteed spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, shrimp and pancetta...all topped off with crumbled goat cheese...YUM!!! It was incredible. I saved half of my meal just so that I could have it for lunch the next day...haha. Thank goodness for restaurants that give you generous portions...some places are so stingy these days. I knew that I wanted to re-create this dish. I even made a list of the ingredients right there at the table...I didn't want to take a chance of forgetting. I was thrilled with the way this dish came out...it was exactly like the dinner at Coop's Place!

The flavors in this pasta are hard to beat. It's a savory, creamy mixture that will have you going back for a second helping...Brad did! I know that some of you might not be big goat cheese fans, but you can easily substitute your favorite cheese...feta, parmesan, etc.

It comes together really quickly, so you can have dinner on the table in 30 minutes flat. It reheats well and will surely be one of your new favorites!***

Ingredients:
7 oz. penne pasta
3 oz. pancetta, diced
9 oz. bag of baby spinach leaves
2 oz. pine nuts
4 oz. sun-dried tomatoes, in oil and cut into 1/4 inch strips (or Julienne Cut)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
Goat Cheese, crumbled
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pine nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake the nuts for 3-4 minutes, or just until they start to brown and become fragrant. Remove the pine nuts from the oven, and set to the side.

Next, in a large pot or Dutch Oven, drizzle about 2 tbsp of the olive oil. Add pancetta and cook for 5 - 7 minutes, stirring often...until the pancetta becomes brown and is cooked thoroughly. Next, add the sun-dried tomatoes to the pan of pancetta, along with the flavored oil from the sun-dried tomato jar (about 1-2 tbsp). Continue to cook until the tomatoes begin to soften.

While the pancetta and tomatoes cook, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Let the pasta cook while you finish the rest of the recipe (10-11 minutes).

After 3-4 minutes, the sun-dried tomatoes will begin to soften. At this point, add the entire bag of spinach to the pot. Begin stirring the mixture, completely mixing the ingredients. Continuously saute/stir the mixture in the oil until the spinach is completely wilted and shiny. It should be a beautifully green color. Season with salt and pepper.

The spinach mixture should look like this...

Remove the spinach mixture from the pot and place on a platter, putting it to the side.

Next, drizzle a little more olive oil into the pot, if needed. Add the shrimp and cook on each side for 2-3 minutes. Once the shrimp is cooked through, add the spinach mixture back to the pot.

Add the pine nuts, stirring well. At this point, the pasta should be just about finished. Drain the pasta and add it to the pot with the rest of the ingredients. Give it one final stir.

Plate the pasta and top with the crumbled goat cheese.

Serve immediately!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Roasted Broccoli with Parmesan

***Broccoli...it's one of those veggies that you probably hated as a kid. I know that I did! My tastes have changed so much...even within the last 2 years! Ingredients that I never really liked before are finding their way into my grocery cart and then eventually onto my dinner plate. Two examples: mushrooms and olives! I know....now these are two of my favorite ingredients! Broccoli is also now one of my favorite veggies. It's loaded with tons of vitamins and nutrients, and there's just so many ways that you can incorporate it into a recipe. You can add it to pasta, bake it into a yummy casserole...or simply roast it like I did here.

This side dish is a wonderfully easy recipe! I baked some chicken breasts tonight, with tomatoes and mushrooms, and this broccoli made a perfect addition. I saw Melissa d'Arabian make this on a recent episode of Ten Dollar Dinners with Melissa d'Arabian. Like all of her other recipes, it is easy, delicious and cheap!

Roasting the broccoli added a terrific flavor. It was tender and crunchy at the same time, with a great cheesy taste from the parmesan.

I think you'll like this one! Bon Appetit!!!***

Ingredients:
1 head broccoli
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Peel the outer layer of the broccoli stalks. Cut the broccoli lengthwise keeping the stalk and broccoli florets intact. (The long broccoli spears should resemble trees.) Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Toss to coat and roast until nicely caramelized, about 15 minutes. Turn broccoli over and sprinkle with grated the Parmesan. Cook until the Parmesan melts, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter and serve immediately.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Sad Day for Foodies..."Gourmet" Magazine To Close

I was so sad today to hear the news...After 70 years, Gourmet magazine is slated to close by the end of the year. Gourmet has long been my favorite foodie mag...I've always been so excited to find it in my mailbox month after month. Unfortunately, that's all about to come to a screaching halt.

Here's the article from CNNMoney.com...You can find the original article HERE.

"Gourmet magazine closes after 70 years
Downturn and ad drought claim longstanding Gourmet magazine. Publisher Condé Nast announces 3 other closures: Cookie and bridal magazines Elegant Bride and Modern Bride.

By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

Gourmet magazine will be shuttered after nearly 70 years.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Foodies got some sour news Monday.

Gourmet, which has amassed a devoted following over nearly 70 years of publication, will be shut down, publisher Condé Nast said.

The magazine, introduced in 1940, is expected to close by the end of the year.

"I feel like Linus and somebody has yanked away my security blanket," said Stuart Clifford, 55, who has been a subscriber for 32 years.

For Clifford, the November issue, which may also be its last, holds particular sentimental value. "My brother and I would always grab the November issue and find the featured meal and make a big deal about cooking it. That was our Thanksgiving (meal) year after year after year," he said.

Even though many fans enjoyed flipping through the glossy pages, popular food shows on television and online sites eroded the magazine's advertising revenue.

"The magazine industry is in a difficult position generally speaking, it's losing revenue to online advertising and it's a tough business right now," said Richard Dorfman, managing director of Richard Alan Inc., a financial advisory and investment company focusing on the media industry.

Gourmet, which has nearly 1 million subscribers, fell victim to a decline in ad sales and followed a companywide review of magazines.

"The review has led us to a number of decisions designed to navigate the company through the economic downturn and to position us to take advantage of coming opportunities," Condé Nast CEO Chuck Townsend wrote in an e-mail to employees.

In addition to shuttering Gourmet, Condé Nast said it was also killing parenting magazine Cookie and two wedding magazines, Elegant Bride and Modern Bride.

"In this economic climate it is important to narrow our focus to titles with the greatest prospects for long-term growth," Townsend wrote.

Roughly 180 people were affected by the news of the four titles closing, according to Condé Nast spokeswoman Maurie Perl.

According to Townsend, Condé Nast will continue to use the Gourmet brand in book publishing and television programming, and Gourmet recipes will still appear on Epicurious.com. The publisher's other epicurean title, Bon Appétit, will remain intact.

Condé Nast is also bumping up the frequency of its Brides magazine to monthly to fill some of the void left by the closing of Modern Bride and Elegant Bride.

"These changes, combined with cost and workforce reductions now underway throughout the company, will speed the recovery of our current businesses and enable us to pursue new ventures," Townsend wrote.

Other magazines have also been hit hard during the downturn. Titles including Blender, Vibe, Domino and Portfolio were all lost in the last year."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Easy & Delicious Chicken Pomodoro


***I recently received a free copy of "Cuisine at home" magazine in the mail. I'm not sure why or where it came from, but I was really happy to get it! I opened it up to find countless yummy-looking recipes. Many of which I will be making soon (and of course blogging about!)

I chose to make this recipe for Chicken Pomodoro first because it looked easy and the flavors sounded great and fresh. I have to say that this was such a flavorful, delicious dish! Not to mention, it makes a gorgeous presentation.

This is a meal that would be perfect for those nights when you have company coming over or if you just want a special dinner without all of the fuss that goes into something complicated. The flavors are great and make for a perfect combination - a sauce made of white wine, cream, lemon juice, tomatoes, and scallions....all atop a perfectly sauteed chicken breast...YUM! The sauce tastes much more complicated than it actually is, and it came together in a flash. Brad LOVED this dish, too. In fact, I asked him if he would change anything about it, and his reply was "I only wish there was more!"

With an answer like that, I'll say this dinner was a big success!***

Ingredients:
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
Flour
Salt & pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
1/4 cup vodka (I substituted this with white wine)
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup tomato, chopped and seeded
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 cup scallion, minced

Directions:
1. Place chicken breasts between 2 pieces of thick plastic wrap and pound until meat is 1/4" thick.
2. Heat oil in skillet.
3. Season chicken with salt& pepper, then dust with flour.
4. Saute chicken in oil till golden then remove to a platter.
5. Pour off fat from pan.
6. Remove pan from heat and add vodka, stir, return to heat and cook stirring until vodka is nearly gone to deglaze the pan.
7. Add broth and lemon juice to pan.
8. Return chicken to pan, cook each side 1 minute then transfer to a warm platter.
9. Add tomatoes and cream to pan.
10. Heat through, then pour over the chicken.
11. Sprinkle top with scallions for garnish.

Source: Cuisine at home magazine